Maxie Dunam and others are trying very hard to defeat several Constitutional Amendments that will be coming before the Annual Conferences of the United Methodist Church this summer. He makes several arguements against the amendments that are either misleading or inadequate reasons to vote against. Here are his arguements and my responses:
1. The voice of UM's outside the U.S. will be reduced
- Yes, in the same way that the voice of U.S. UM's is reduced in other parts of the world. The Discipline already allows for central conferences to "make such changes and adaptataions of the Book of Discipline as the special conditions and the mission of the church in the area require..." (2008 BOD, paragraph 543.7). The current church structure assumes that the U.S. way of doing things is "normal" and non-U.S. ways of doing things are "special conditions". This is clearly a U.S.-centric approach to the world that is no longer true. My guess is the reason this clause is in the BOD is that we recognized that a U.S. majority at General Conference may make decisions that aren't in the best interest of the non-U.S. minority. If the U.S. is about to become the minority at General Conference (not in 2012, but possibly in 2016) then wouldn't it simply make sense to put the same provision in place for the U.S. churches?
2. Nobody knows what issues will be handled by the new regional confernces and we won't know until 2012.
- This is misleading. Nobody knows precisely, but 1) we have been told by members of the task force what kinds of things they are looking at 2) there is every reason to believe the issues that regional conferences will be able to address are the same as those in paragraph 543.7 and 3) the final decision will be made in 2012 by the same people that Rev. Dunam wants to empower. The combination of the Central Conference delegates and Rev. Dunam and his allies will certainly be a majority in 2012. They will be able to put this in whatever final form they desire.
Additionally, one of the problems of the institution of the UMC is that we are sooooo slow to move forward. If these amendments, approved by General Conference in 2008, fail, then they would have to be approved again in 2012 and approved by Annual Conferences in 2013 before they would take affect in 2014. Why not expedite the process now sine we'll still need a majority at the 2012 General Conference to even actually approve the creation of new regional conferences?
3. Regional Conferences will require more funding and bureaucracy
- Perhaps, but arguably not that much. Because much of what is currently done at General Conference would now be done at the regional conference level, General Conference would be shorter and less expensive. The most likely scenario for a U.S. regional conference would be a meeting immediately prior to General Conference to deal with U.S. issues followed by a shorter General Conference. The total length of time might be slightly longer than the current General Conference, but the overall expense would probably be less. There is no plan that I'm aware of for any structured bureaucracy at the regional conference level.
4. It's moving toward the "Anglican model" with different places adopting different practices
- Actually, we are already following this model somewhat with the provision in the BOD that allows central conference to adapt the BOD as they choose. The theological debates that are rocking the Anglican church are the same ones that are rocking the UMC, but there is nothing in the proposals that would allow regional conferences to make independent decisions on those issues. This is a scare tactic with no basis in reality.
5. We must not make changes "for" the churches of the developing world, but "with" them, which this does not do.
- I agree with the principle of making decisions with UMs from all over the world. This is what General Conference does and will continue to do. But on matters particular to the region of the world that a particular church is in, there should be freedom for differences. This is why we give Annual Conferences freedom to make decisions unless the BOD speaks specifically to it. Local churches have the same freedom. We should extend this freedom at the regional level.
The worldwide nature of the church amendments recognize our church as a global church, gives proper representation and power to all regional bodies across the world, and keeps matters of doctrine at the General Conference level where they belong. If you will be voting at Annual Conference this year I hope you will strongly consider voting in favor of them.